When scooter-share company Bird flew onto the streets of Asheville in October, its wings were quickly clipped by city staff. Citing ordinances that prohibited the parking and driving of vehicles on public sidewalks, the city rounded up approximately 200 electric scooters and impounded them at the Public Works building — then asked Judge Alan Thornburg to issue a temporary restraining order against Bird after the firm allegedly reneged on a promise to remove its e-scooters from the streets.
City Council will now evaluate stronger regulations that specifically target e-scooters at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14. A proposed change to the city’s Code of Ordinances would prohibit the operation of any such self-propelled two-wheeled device, whether privately owned or rented from a company such as Bird, on all public property within Asheville city limits.
In a staff report issued to Council before the meeting, Transportation Department Director Ken Putnam said the city had “public health, safety and welfare concerns” regarding the use of e-scooters. He noted that doctors at several U.S. hospitals, the majority based in Bird’s home state of California, had expressed worry about unregulated e-scooter activity.
Putnam also addressed the city’s issues with e-scooters cluttering sidewalks. “From the short time Bird was operating in Asheville, and based on the experience of other cities, it appears that without proper regulation, e-scooters will be left on the sidewalks in a manner that blocks the public right of way, poses a tripping hazard and makes city sidewalks less safe for pedestrians,” he explains.
However, Putnam did not rule out the possibility of e-scooters ever returning to Asheville’s streets. The city’s transportation department is currently working on a bike and e-scooter share study, scheduled for completion in January, that could inform different policies and potential permitting options for Bird and other companies.
In other business
While the e-scooter ban is the only item of new business at the Nov. 27 meeting, Council will hear several presentations about ongoing efforts. These include the results of a nearly $320,000 study on racial and gender disparities in city contracting, the first such analysis since 1993, presented by Denver-based BBC Research & Consulting.
According to a presentation made available before the meeting, roughly $12.3 million of $118 million in city contracts from 2012-2017 was awarded to minority- and woman-owned businesses, a total of 10.4 percent. Of that allocation, nearly 85 percent went to firms owned by white women, leaving only $1.6 million for all other minority groups, consultants concluded.
By comparing this allocation to available minority business capacity, the consultants asserted that Asheville city government was substantially underutilizing companies owned by blacks, Asian Americans and Native Americans. Businesses owned by Hispanics and white women received an equitable share of contracts, but only for construction jobs.
The Asheville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement will present an overview of its Health Engagement Leading to Prevention pilot initiative at Arrowhead Apartments. The HELP program is designed to “train community members to serve as health workers in their own communities,” thereby reducing the burden on housing development managers.
“These low-income affordable housing complexes serve as home to a mixture of our community’s most high-need and high-risk populations,” ABIPA reported in its slide presentation, specifically citing the elderly and recently homeless. “Sustained and long-term interventions are critical to promote long-term health outcomes — fostering greater equity, connection and safety for everyone.”
The consent agenda for the meeting consists of 11 items, which are typically approved as a package unless specifically singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following:
- An ordinance raising city parking fines, effective Friday, Feb. 1. An overtime parking citation would be increased from $10 to $20, while the fee for parking in a loading zone would triple from $10 to $30.
- A resolution setting a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 11, to consider an economic development grant for Burial Beer Company. City staff estimate that the performance-based grant, not to exceed $30,000, could induce facility improvements of $1.8 million in value and create 17 new jobs.
- A resolution to sign a memorandum of understanding with Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina to plan an 80-unit permanently affordable housing development on city-owned land at 29 Oak Hill Drive. Homeward Bound would develop a conceptual site plan and cost estimates to be considered by the city no later than September 2019.
- A resolution accepting $2,832 from the FM Global Fire Prevention Grant to replace the Asheville Fire Department’s “Sparky the Fire Dog” costume. The department’s current costume is over 20 years old and “does not look like the official mascot,” according to interim Fire Chief Christopher Budzinski.
Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. A work session to discuss potential city revenue sources will be held in the same space starting at 3 p.m. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here; supporting documents for the work session will be available on Monday, Nov. 26.